Everyone makes a ruckus over singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. What else is new? As most admirers of the remarkably talented gay icon know, Wainwright has effortlessly managed to turn a lot of wrongs into rights by discussing his personal struggles — which include an attempted rape at 14 years old and crystal meth addiction leading to temporary vision loss in his late 20s — openly and frankly. Consequently his oeuvre and fame have punctuated the zeitgeist and prompted much acclaim by critics.
However his latest opinion may be his most controversial yet. Well, at least, for any of us who live in the 416 area code.
Four months ago he told me Toronto was dead to him. He stated it rather matter-of-factly, with a laugh. “I hate visiting Toronto. I can’t stand it. The place drives me mad. I have friends there, I work there, but I find it really hard to like. I will have to go back there, but I wish I didn’t have to.”
Xtra caught up with Wainwright at the Los Angeles GLAAD Media Awards where he was honoured with the Stephen F Kolzak Award. Wainwright, the son of Canadian singer Kate McGarrigle and US singer Loudon Wainwright III still maintains a love for Montreal where he was raised. “I’m in Montreal a lot because my mother still lives there,” he says.
Wainwright, who lists Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde and “anyone with an insane mother” as his gay icons, has carved out a unique, impressive career, releasing a string of baroque pop CDs. A few notable critics, including Elton John, have hailed Wainwright as the most talented musician of our time.
These days Wainwright is busy reinventing himself. “I’m writing an opera,” he says. “After my Judy Garland CD I decided to do something completely different. The opera is called Prima Donna, which is about a day in the life of an opera singer. Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb has commissioned the opera, so we’re all excited. There are four characters and I’m writing the libretto in French — and that’s all I can say at the moment.
“I’m also writing music for the Shakespeare sonnets of a great homosexual of yesteryear with Robert Wilson, the great theatre director.”
What’s left on Rufus’ to-do list? “To be a kid on Degrassi,” he says only half-jokingly.
Wainwright is also passionate about politics. Having lived in both Canada and the US, the artist is highly aware that the world is at dire crossroads. Recently California allowed gays to marry. Since he was one of the first major stars to come out, what are his thoughts?
“I think the world’s changing, yes,” he says. “I would venture to say it’s getting better. Having said that though, I also think the climate in the world is getting worse… quite literally. Global warming and wars should be our main focus, but in order to achieve peace in the world we need to lead that example in our own backyard.”
Later I caught up with Wainwright playing house in his own backyard with his gorgeous boyfriend, Long Island Watermill Center theatre and creative director Jörn Weisbrodt. “His name means ‘white bread’ in German,” says Wainwright. “We’ve been together for almost three years. We live in Chelsea. We’re a typical gay couple, except we don’t have a dog yet!”
Weisbrodt says being in love with a musical genius isn’t as high maintenance as you might assume. “I can’t think of anything he does that is annoying,” says Weisbrodt. “I guess the best thing about him is there is nothing annoying about him.” Wainwright, however, manages to find something more tangible when asked the same question. “The best thing about my boyfriend is that he cleans all the time. The worst thing about him is he cleans all the time. You know, he’s German.”
While many artists create their most profound work during periods of depression and tragedy, Wainwright dismisses the theory. “My work only gets better and better when I’m happy, not depressed,” says the 35-year-old. “You get deeper and deeper in your creative process when you’re happy, at least for me.”
Which means the best is yet to come.